chess player.

And sat there…

After a couple minutes of this I couldn’t stand the suspense any longer. “Isn’t there an emergency, Captain?” I asked cautiously.

She sighed and rubbed her round brown chin. “Well, we’ve got a problem, anyway. Come on in and take a look.”

“Yes ma’am.” I hustled partway around the compartment’s circumference to enter the horseshoe-shaped command area. That inner deck was supposed to rotate, but it was stuck in one position.

When I came up behind her she pointed to one particular screen. “See those areas flashing red?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Any idea what they are?”

I concentrated on the various reads. “That’s K’leven’s moon.” The planet the Prezzies were down on was cataloged as K11-21B/G271/B3, but we’d all been calling it K’leven for short. “The sensor readings seem to suggest some sort of, uh, gravitational anomalies on its surface.”

She nodded. Her chair squeaked as she turned to face me. “Very good. Any idea what they are?”

I didn’t have a clue, but that wasn’t something I wanted to admit. “First I’d need, uh, more comprehesive scanning and first order extrapolation, which, ah—”

“Which this old tub hasn’t got in her,” she finshed with a faint sarcasm. “In other words, no.” She crossed her arms before her ample bosom. “You may have noticed that the planet and its satellite look like they’ve had large chunks torn out of and blown into them. Does that suggest anything?”

“Dr. Xan said they had a war, ma’am,” I began uncertainly. The leader of the Prezzie expedition had said lots of things, but to be honest I had tuned most of them out. Every conversation seemed to turn into a class, and I’d already graduated.

The captain let out a derisive snort. “They had their own personal vulking apocalypse, Ornish. These folks discovered at least some crude form of gravitic control, and they used it to take potshots at each other using chunks of their worlds bigger than this ship as ammo.”

I tried to imagine such a thing, and came close enough to not want to get any closer. That much mass impacting at even meteoric speeds would release the same sort of energy as a several gigatonne bomb. It was no wonder there were no overt signs the place had ever been inhabited.

“So what we’re seeing here is big trouble brewing,” she went on, snapping me out of my appalled daze. “It looks like either our arrival, or something our friends down on K’leven did has managed to wake up a weapons system left over from the war fought here.”

I stared at her in disbelief. “But they said both K’leven and its moon have been dead a thousand years!”

She shrugged. “Hey, every military wants its weapons built to last longer than the targets they’re used on. It looks like our lobster people got their money’s worth. According to what the Gibbon’s guts can predict, the area where the expedition is working is going to get hammered with half a dozen chunks of rock weighing a few hundred tons each less than four hours from now.”

I don’t know which I found scarier; what she had just said, or the matter-of-fact way she said it. “So what do we do, ma’am?” I stammered.

She squinted up at me. “First quit ma’aming me every vulking time I turn around!”

I went to parade rest, head bowed meekly. “Yes’m.”

“As for what we do about it, I plan to stay right here, monitor the situation, and have the Gibbon somewhere other than geosynched between the moon and ground zero when the rocks start to fly.”

She stood, looked me up and down. The expression on her face said she wasn’t too excited by what she was seeing. “And you,” she said, “Are going down to get our passengers the hell out of there.”

Shortly afterward I was sitting in the cockpit and at the controls of the Gibbon’s shuttle, rerunning the preflight checks as I waited for Captain Chandaveda to return.

Saying that I was a bit nervous would be placidifying my mental state by a twitch or twice. In the five minutes since the captain had left me there to wait while she went to get something, I’d made two dry and fruitless trips to the head.

When I first learned that I’d been sentenced to a Prezzie ship, and that while I would technically be first officer—the entire crew consisted of myself and the captain—I’d envisioned endless scutwork as my inglorious and undeserved fate.

There had been scutwork, of course, but not quite as much as I’d expected. Spit and polish wasn’t Sara fina Chandaveda’s style. Her attitude seemed to be that if something worked more or less properly, leave it the hell alone.

One thing I hadn’t expected was this sort of sudden serious responsibility. JO’s were supposed to watch and learn and leave the critical work to more experienced hands.

“I can do this,” I kept muttering. I was the one who had taken the Prezzies and their equipment down in the first place, so piloting the shuttle was nothing new The only difference this time was that their lives depended on me getting them back off again. I repeated my mantra and began another check.

“OK, Ornish,” Captain Chandaveda said, nearly making me jump out of my skin. Those bare feet had let her sneak up on me like a ninja. “Here’s one last piece of equipment for you.”

I stood up and faced her, almost falling back into my chair when I saw that she had a gun. It was old and big and chemo-mechanical, and it appeared extremely deadly.

Ma’am?” I asked, my voice an octave or two higher than normal.

“Just take it,” she said tartly as she offered it to me butt-first. She scowled. “They still give weapons training at the Academy, don’t they?”

“Yes’m,” I answered, taking it and wondering if this was the time to mention that I had only passed the course because my instructor had taken pity on me. I was an ace at weapons safety and maintenance. The problem came when I actually tried to hit something. I checked the safety, then looked around for a safe place to put it.

“I want you to carry it, Ornish,” she said, sounding more than a little exasperated. “Put it in your waistband under your jacket. Keep it hidden and on you at all times. It might just come in handy if they try to pull an Alexandrian Librarian on you.”

“A what? I don’t—”

She sighed. “Just do it, Ornish. Now get your ass in gear and get the job done. I’m counting on you.” She turned on her bare heel and headed for the airlock, glancing back over her shoulder just as she went through. She gave me an odd look, then said, “Be sure and bring them back alive!”

“What?” I called, but the lock door was closing between us.

All I could do was jam the gun into my waistband as ordered, sit back down in the pilot’s seat and initiate separation. The clamps released, there was a slight lurch, and my rescue mission began.

The shuttle’s under-juiced and over-aged gravitic propulsion systems gave it a fairly limited payload capacity and speed; like everything else they owned, it seemed to be a fifth generation hand-me-down. Ferrying the Prezzies and all their gear down to K’leven had taken three trips, and given me plenty of time for sightseeing.

But this trip I was seeing the planet’s battered surface with new eyes. The closer I got, the more chilling the picture became.

When Captain Chandaveda had said that the war which had been fought between the inhabitants of the planet and its major satellite had been their own personal apocalypse, she hadn’t been hyping the scale and scope of destruction below me. Deep craters pocked K’leven’s surface, some of them still fuming sullenly these thousand years later, the wounds deep enough to have created volcanic vents. There were fissures and chasms large enough to swallow the Gibbon whole, the skeletal remains of rivers boiled dry and seas turned to ashy mud. Of cities, or roads, or other fingerprints of civilization there was not the faintest trace. It had been a living world, and now it was not. The difference, and just how awful the changeover had been, was finally coming clear to me.

It was hard to believe that anything could have survived intact through such a deadly barrage. But something

Вы читаете Alexandrian Librarians
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату